If you’re considering buying a guitar and it’s not your first guitar – then second-hand is a good option! There are several things to consider and some points you will need to know before you start but if you know what you’re looking for and you’re prepared to do the leg work necessary, you can pick up a really nice instrument at a great price. OK, so you’re looking for that guitar that’s going to speak to you, give you a sweet tone and of course – look fantastic so here’s some info that you really must look into before you take that step. I’m here to help – so let’s get started!

Set a budget

Firstly – as with any purchase, you need to set a budget. This is very important because when you buy something (from a muffin to a motorcar) you can very easily let emotion and excitement get in the way and the result is you’ll probably pay too much. Often a seller WANTS you be become emotional because they can know that when you emotionally “invest” in the item you can easily be persuaded to pay more for it. The rule is to have several options open to you, keep a cool head and be well informed before you start looking.

Know what you want to buy

You need to know your product! Know what sort of guitar you’re looking for. Preferably the brand, the model and as much detail about it as you can find. Knowledge is power and the more you know – the better. To give you an example; I was once offered a Gibson Les Paul and the seller swore black and blue that it was a 1965 model. It was well played and certainly looked like an old instrument so everything looked right. However, I knew that Gibson did not make the standard Les Paul shape from the early 60’s to late 1967 going into full production in 1968 and the Gibson Les Paul model of that period was their SG shape so it certainly was NOT a 1965 model, nor was it worth the price tag he had on it. It was a genuine Gibson LP and it was an older guitar and nice to play – but looking at the serial numbers I discovered that it was in fact a 1980 model and while still worth some coin – not nearly what he was asking for it. My knowledge of the Gibson guitar and knowing a bit of the company’s history plus a little about their serial numbers etc saved me from paying too much for what seemed like a good deal at the time for a vintage instrument (for the record – I didn’t end up buying that guitar). So knowing what guitar you are looking for and a bit about it can be very important.

Do your homework

The internet is a fantastic tool for this. You really can’t hide anymore – everything is there for the world to see! Once you know what guitar you want, do some research. Look up what they are selling for and remember to look at as many as you can to get a good average. Finding an average can be helpful as it can establish a medium price point to start looking. If you look at 10 guitars and they range in price from $1000 to $1500 just add up all the prices and divide by 10 to get an average. This will give you a good idea on what to offer when the time comes.

Know what to look for

If you know a little about guitars already, maybe do some further research and learn some more – remember; knowledge is power! Know how to look for a straight neck, no cracks or damage in the body, if the pickups or electrics have been altered, if it has all its original parts, if it hasn’t been resprayed or if the case is in good condition etc. Sometimes the damage or alterations are noticeable- sometimes they aren’t… so beware, know what to look for and you could be saving yourself from a “lemon”.

Don’t buy a “lemon”

Lemon is the term for something that turns out to be something it shouldn’t! Sometimes it’s almost unavoidable to buy a lemon because all the repairs/damage/refinishes or alterations are well hidden and it’s only until you get it home some weeks later that these issues appear. Keep in mind that when you purchase second-hand it’s a case of “buyer beware” you bought it – you own it so it can pay to do as much initial research as possible because you cannot take it back if you don’t like it.

Ask for help

If you think you’re out of your depth you should never feel like you can’t ask someone more qualified to give you some advice in fact, it can often be extremely helpful to take a knowledgeable advocate along when you’re looking. They may see what you don’t and they won’t become emotionally invested in the purchase either so they can be a voice of reason when necessary. If you are having lessons your teacher can be an excellent source of information and may even accompany you if you need it (you may have to ask nicely though…)

Be practical

If you are buying your second or third guitar, I suspect that you have been playing for a while and you already have a guitar/s and maybe other equipment like amps and effects etc. Be as practical as possible when making your decision, think hard about exactly what you want this new guitar to do. What sounds do you want to achieve? What style of music am I going to play on it? Is it compatible with my existing gear? Let’s go through each of these points and be clear. What do you want this guitar to do? Do you want it to play a different style on, that is – different to the music your other guitar/s now do? Or are you looking for a back up guitar in the event your current guitar breaks a string? If this is the case then you would want something similar although maybe not exactly the same as you currently have. If you play a Stratocaster now then maybe you need to look at a Telecaster – similar but different….. If you’re looking for a completely different sounding guitar you would look at your pickup configuration. Again, if you play a Stratocaster (they have single coils) you may need a guitar with humbuckers in it like a Gibson, Epiphone, Ibanez, Musicman etc. These types of guitar will give you a very different sound from what you have now – all things to consider. If you want a guitar to play a different style of music on then look for a guitar that suits that style. For example you wouldn’t buy a B.C. Rich “Warlock” (heavy metal) to play Jazz music on now would you… well you might, but well… you shouldn’t…. So make sure the guitar you buy matches the style of music you want to play. What sounds do you want it to achieve? If you want to play music that uses a tremolo system – then it pays to buy a guitar that already has one in it! Retro fitting a locking trem system can very difficult and expensive – there are many, many companies that make guitars with tremolo systems so consider this as well. Lastly, is my new guitar compatible with my existing gear? Boy the number of times I’ve heard of players who have bought a guitar only to find that it really doesn’t work with their current set up…. this is not to say it won’t work or that you cannot make it work but if you’re set up is built around a Stratocaster guitar and you introduce an hotted up Ibanez with humbuckers and tremolo you will need to build a whole new tone bank for it – that of course is just a matter of time and it can be done but only IF you’re going to use it enough to justify it all…..again something to consider.

Where to buy?

The internet is slowly chocking bricks and mortar retail sales all around the world and most people’s preferred one-stop shop seems to be Ebay. While I am not against this, I really urge caution; if there is a golden rule to buying your second-hand guitar it would have to be do not buy a guitar you have not seen, held and/or played!! New instruments are covered by a warranty and the seller is duty bound to make sure you receive your goods in new condition and perform in the fashion expected. Second-hand goods are not! Once you have paid your money you own those goods – faults and all.

There are too many to tell horror stories of money being transferred overseas for guitar that never arrive or a completely different guitar is in the case etc. You need to be very careful if you choose this option. It is my belief that it’s a better choice to try to source an instrument locally. You’d be surprised what you’ll find!

Some years back I was looking for a Telecaster. I travelled to Melbourne searching for that magic instrument that would speak to me. After many stores and many more disappointments, I came back home despondent. Tired from looking at way too many over-priced second-hand guitars I returned home absent my Telecaster. Putting it out of my head for a while (I was becoming a little obsessed) I noticed an ad placed on my studio notice board – you guessed it – for a Telecaster, not only the colour I was looking for but the model as well. The phone number looked familiar so I rang up and found the seller to be someone I knew AND he lived not 5 minutes drive from me. I went over, saw it, played it, loved it and now it has become my No.1 guitar….all the way to Melbourne only to find the guitar I wanted was really in Cleveland!! Strange how it can work sometime – but I feel strongly that you should always play a guitar and hold it in your hands BEFORE you buy it. You can buy second-hand guitars from music stores and they are required to offer a limited warranty period (usually 3 months) and while you may pay a little more for it, it can often be peace of mind to know that there is someone to help if all is not what it seems.


Beware of imitations – some years ago there was a flood of Gibson guitars on the market. Les Paul’s selling for $300??? Now anyone knows that you really CANNOT buy a genuine Gibson Les Paul (of any description) for prices like that – and sure enough yes – it was a Chinese company making cheap rip offs and selling them to unsuspecting, unknowing, uneducated buyers! Many who had purchased one of these instruments swore on a Bible that they were genuine even after discovering the truth – I’m supposing it was a matter of pride, but pride didn’t make the phony guitars any more worthy or desirable. Now that wasn’t to say the guitars (well the one’s that I played anyway) weren’t worth the $300 paid for them but they were NOT what they were made out to be and that’s where knowledge is really important!

Make sure you get what you pay for. Never buy a guitar because it LOOKS pretty (sometimes the most plain-Jane looking guitars can sound the best – look at Martin acoustic guitars – they don’t look like much but they sound amazing!!) – and if it seems too good to be true – well…it probably is! Make sure that after you have handed over your money everything that was supposed to be with the guitar is there. This includes items such asĀ  straps, leads, cases, cleaners, strings etc are all accounted for when you take delivery and if you are buying from out of town ensure that all the accessories are clearly printed on the invoice then check that you have everything immediately upon receipt of the guitar. This may seem a little trite but it can save you many phone calls and angst later, best to get it right the first time.

Best of luck and good hunting for your second-hand guitar!